If you lose your job due to downsizing, don't worry-as one step in your career path ends, the next one is coming up.

Losing your job can be a very stressful experience. Unfortunately, in this turbulent economy, it's becoming an all-too-scary reality for many. It might feel like disaster, especially at first, but you can turn a layoff into a liberating experience. With the right preparation, there'll be better days ahead.

Keep your cool

It's easy to storm out of the office with a box of personal items, never to look back. But that could be a huge mistake. Before you leave, get all the severance assistance your employer has to offer. Stick around for a while-hours, maybe days-and hash out the terms of your departure with those soon-to-be former superiors of yours. They may be willing to adjust the balance between extended benefits and cash allowances. If you have stock options or restricted stock in the company, either as part of your compensation or from taking part in the 401(k) plan, the vesting can sometimes be accelerated when you leave. It doesn't hurt to ask.

Take care of any personal files on the company's computer systems. Send important stuff home via email, or burn a quick CD. No company secrets, mind you-this is only for personal files and important emails that accumulated over the years. That email address book will come in handy very quickly.

Start networking

Make sure to depart on good terms, leaving nothing but friends and potential business contacts behind. Don't lose touch with your co-workers and bosses. They can help you find your next job, write letters of reference, and advise you through the job-hunting process.

Your colleagues today may come in handy two or five employment bounces down the road. Just reaching out to some old friends who once knew you well can open employment opportunities that you'd never find through job boards or headhunters. Get your name back out there, and let people know that your talents are on the market.

Surviving the cash crunch

Apply for unemployment benefits. The government is offering you free money until you land your next position, so take it. They won't stock your fridge with caviar and champagne, though, so it's important to have other financial tools available. The bills still need to be paid, people need to eat, and the money to pay for all of that has to come from somewhere. If you planned properly, you can dip into your emergency fund. (Experts say that about three months' worth of living expenses is adequate for most short-term emergencies like losing a job.)

If that's not available, consider borrowing from your retirement savings. A home equity line of credit (HELOC) lets you tap the equity in your home for quick cash. If all else fails, a wallet full of credit cards can help you through the worst of it.

Done right, that layoff can be a springboard to a better job, without causing too much pain in the interim.

Published on June 19, 2008